A Spark of Hope by Tracey Smith
Friday night I went to sleep praying about what to speak about for the next day’s event. I woke up with my thoughts in a jail cell. There were so many things that happened in that cell. It was an underground jail, under the courthouse. There was something about being locked underground. It was eerie and definitely felt like a dungeon. Smelled like one too.
Sounds miserable but it was a pause in time and space, yes, time stood still, and it changed the course of my life, and my eternity. I could write a thousand stories about what happened in there but this particular day God showed me this. It was one of many sparks of hope in my heart. A Pastor and his wife visited this jail faithfully. I never met the husband till later. He saw the men and his wife and another young lady visited the women prisoners. They brought in a guitar and sang beautiful songs. Mrs. Debbie, the Pastor’s wife, well she was sunshine in a box. Bubbly and funny, she lit up that dark dungeon. Unlike any Christians I have ever met. She didn’t break out a giant sin calculator or call out my sins. She didn’t even want to know or care what they were. She told us about Jesus and what he had done for our sins.
Looking back I think Mrs. Debbie knew we were already very aware of our wrongs. That she was there to reconcile us in love back to God. I think that’s why she was so easy to love. She taught us about God, not how we were wrong.
One of the ways she did that is she told us about their church they had opened up…The Recovery Church. She gave us a pamphlet and on it there was a mugshot of a man. She said this is my husband. Confused, I sat forward grabbing it. She had gotten my attention.
I had got to know her pretty well but somehow I had missed this part. Actually I know how.
She may have mentioned it in the beginning but I used to see them coming in and stuff homemade earplugs in, till eventually the need for hope and the Holy Spirit drew me to them. I missed a lot of those first visits. I guess I was too ashamed. But this pamphlet told the story of a criminal that made mistakes like me and was convicted of them.
This criminal was Pastor Dennis, her husband, and this is what I read that sparked a hope in me: “Dennis spent 30 years in bondage to alcohol and drugs. His sinful life brought such destruction to his body that at one point his own mother didn’t recognize him. Even though he was in and out of jail, he always thought he could beat the system. But when he was arrested in 2001, the DA was tired of giving him chances. Facing two life sentences and $80,000 in fines he knew he was in real trouble. He finally was sentenced to 65 years, 20 of those years was aggravated trafficking which is day for day, no good time! It was in the county jail that God began the work that would transform his life. One of the volunteer chaplains, Jack Price, was a man who had formerly been an outlaw with him. Jack pleaded with Dennis to surrender his life back to Jesus. He had been saved by the faithful witness of a man in rehab, but now he had the time to begin getting into God’s word. After seven years in prison, God miraculously set him free.
One of his great passions was to return to the county jail he had spent so much time in to share with the men and women how God had transformed his life. Today he is a full time Chaplain in the very jail he spent so much time in. After many months in jail, he went to prison 4 days before Christmas in 2001 with 65 years and 80,000 in fines and 4 days before Christmas in 2008, exactly 7 years, he walked back into the jail a changed man preaching the good news and sharing about this awesome miracle from God. But now he is free from both prisons.
Prison was the beginning of God setting him free from the real prison he had been in for 35 years, prison to sin and the devil! Dennis met his wife seven months after being released from prison and one and a half years later they were married. He and Debbie now Pastor The Recovery Church, a church they planted seven years ago. A church that God birthed in October 2010 out of this incredible story. They also continue the jail ministry and 4 prisons, one of them is Cushing Prison where Dennis spent 7 years of his life. God is still writing the book of this journey which includes a godly wife, 4 grandchildren, and an awesome church family.”
This is one of those stricken moments where God really gets in there.
I remember thinking God forgives him? I mean the Bible says that yeah but who have I met that has done this stuff and been forgiven? Maybe God would forgive me too.
I also remember thinking, he did those things and God loves him, maybe just maybe he would love me too. Somebody lit a match. It ignited hope. I sure had messed up. I didn’t have much to start with but I didn’t have a single thing left to hope for till now. God didn’t just forgive him. God didn’t just love him. God was using him, maybe he could use me too. Mrs. Debbie kept coming and we had an opportunity to get baptized.
Pastor Dennis did the baptizing. Just knowing this story of being set free. I remember meeting Dennis for the first time and I said you better hold me under till the bubbles almost stop ha-ha. I was serious this time. I didn’t want to go back. I don’t know what was different about this time but a change of heart happened and I think what would’ve happened if God had no one to send? What if I never met Debbie Hall? Where would I be? And then I throw those “what ifs” in the trashcan because it’s obvious God had a plan for me to meet this woman and this man.
Fast forward 6 years later, I’m a chaplain in the hood county jail, in Granbury TX, I baptized my first set of ladies. And I told them that a forgiven man baptized me also. In a tin trough in a county jail also.
So today God showed me what he wanted me to speak about. He showed me that sometimes to truly understand forgiveness we have to see the face of someone wearing it. And years later I walked into a jail and forgiveness had a face they also could look at. I wonder why all those years I never met anyone like them. I wonder why even though this Pastor’s wife had never been in trouble but she took time to love and respect me in a way I had never known. Respect the malnourished junkie that she had no idea what my charges were and didn’t ask either. To love the addict by telling her these stories and bringing hymns and hope and God to all of us. But besides all that, what she did that affected me the most is she simply just loved me, dirt and all.
I know everyone’s story is different. But when God changed my heart, when he gave me that new heart, time stopped, a moment with God that felt like a thousand years. A pause in time and space. A rip in eternity. Thank you God for rescuing me. You never stopped sending your people. You never stopped reaching out to me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:11